A partial, but still Looong, DVD Review by Joe Torcivia
|But, Taz LIKE snow!|
Once upon a time, as the 1960s drew to a close, television animation began to really suck!
It sucked, and sucked, and sucked some more! And, it just kept on sucking! Mightily, did it suck! Verily and forsooth, the sucking became-eth the stuff of legend!
Through the seventies, and well into the eighties, it continued to suck… until The Walt Disney Company moved to reverse the trend with its syndicated series DUCKTALES in 1987, and Ralph Bakshi may have arguably worked an even greater feat of magic by secreting his MIGHTY MOUSE: THE NEW ADVENTURES into a Saturday morning broadcast network’s lineup.
|Fear not, Young Fellow... The sucking has ended! ...I think!|
Conversely, Disney’s DUCKTALES flourished in the relatively new arena of original syndicated afternoon animated programming (something that NO LONGER EXISTS today, thanks to the encroachment of extended, profitable local newscasts, and the unfortunate proliferation of trashy syndicated talk shows). This new “Afternoon Animation Boom” spawned CHIP AND DALE’S RESCUE RANGERS and TALE SPIN, and ultimately resulted in a two-hour block titled “The Disney Afternoon”.
|The sucking has ended for CERTAIN!|
Warner Bros., clearly noticing Disney’s success, woke up and wanted in!
|"Wake up -- and welcome to the nineties!"|
Despite my great fondness for the achievements of such a trend-setting first effort (See: the later ANIMANIACS and PINKY AND THE BRAIN), one would not be remiss to assert that TTA failed to best TALE SPIN, which was the Walt Disney Television Animation machine arguably operating at the height of its powers.
And, with Disney laying claim to the 1990-1991 Season’s competition, so began an annual contest between the two toon titans… that would not last anywhere near as long as I’d expected it to.
For 1991-1992, Disney’s entry was the enormously (and deservedly) popular DARKWING DUCK, while Warner countered with the subject of this review – TAZ-MANIA.
TAZ-MANIA, I should point out, had the disadvantage of not going head-to-head with DARKWING DUCK in afternoon syndication (as TINY TOON ADVENTURES did with TALE SPIN), but was deposited into the new “Fox Kids” Saturday morning lineup where the 13 episodes on this DVD set were broadcast. But, one might make the case that, as a Sat AM show, TAZ-MANIA had the rougher road to hoe (for all the reasons that made Sat AM so atrocious in the first place), and still succeeded.
|Taz want DUCK for dinner!|
In my view, at least, it was the first time a Warner show EQUALED its Disney counterpart in terms of both quality and enjoyment! Even if you disagree and give it to DARKWING (which I certainly won’t argue), there’s no doubt the tide was irrevocably turned by the coming of TAZ-MANIA and the “Damn the Torpedoes!” confidence it instilled in the folks at Warner TV Animation. Imagine “finding your footing” with a character that “spins”.
The following season WB ran out the unprecedented BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES against Disney’s GOOF TROOP, and things soon deteriorated for Disney to the point where it became ANIMANIACS vs. (Choke!) BONKERS!
|Sorry folks, but we won't even picture those Disney shows! ...You'll thank us!|
The animation competition, that looked as if it would thrill us fans for years to come, was over before we knew it and Warner Bros. never looked back – instituting the “WB Network” and its “KIDS WB” Sat AM block that gave us such great series as PINKY AND THE BRAIN, FREAKAZOID!, THE SYLVESTER AND TWEETY MYSTERIES, SUPERMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES, and BATMAN BEYOND!
But, in all this, let us not forget that it was TAZ-MANIA that took a nearly-forgotten (but KEY) step in closing and/or evening the gap between the animated product of Warner and Disney, and helped set Warner Bros. TV animation on the extremely high trajectory it would follow for its next decade or more.
On a more personal note, it was while becoming a regular viewer of TAZ-MANIA that I came to the conclusion that "good TV cartoons" were not merely an anomaly, or a short-lived blip on the overall entertainment continuum, but might very well be "here to stay". ...And, for most of the nineties and shortly beyond, they were!
Further, TAZ-MANIA delivered, what was to me, a perfect balance of the good old violent slapstick, that cartoon fans had craved since the advent of parents watchdog groups, and consistently great and downright funny dialogue, which the older and more classic slapstick cartoons usually lacked. None of the other great series created to this point of the TV animation resurgence really did that on a consistent basis.
As if to perpetuate its unjustly ignored place in modern TV animation history, Warner Home Video has waited until 2013 to finally release TAZ-MANIA on DVD. But, now they finally HAVE “given the Devil his due”!
Oh, and about that “Partial” part… I’m pleased to review Taz-Mania – Season One, Part One: Taz on the Loose – for its FIRST FOUR episodes.
If we waited for all 13, the review would be a VERY long time in coming. And, given the detail with which I tend to discuss the episodes, it would be an unwieldy read – or it would have to be posted over several parts. Besides, these first four really give you a taste of what TAZ-MANIA is all about, and introduce many of the series' best characters. These episodes are from the initial 1991-1992 season, and originally aired on the “Fox Kids” Sat AM block:
“Like Father Like Son”/ “Frights of Passage”: We are introduced to the unlikely concept of Taz as a nuclear family member – meeting his frenetic super-mom Jean, laid back Bing Crosby-like dad “Hugh Devil” (A nice joke in itself!), teen sister Molly, and little bro Jake! Funny thing is each member of the Devil Family speaks incessantly, while Taz has the same limited powers of speech as “that Tasmanian Devil” in the Robert McKimson theatrical shorts. Hugh attempts to “tame”, or at least “calm” his wayward son but, needless to say, it works the other way around.
In the second cartoon, we meet Francis X. Bushlad (named after famed silent-era actor Francis X. Bushman, whose career lasted long enough to guest star in such 1960s TV classics as BATMAN and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA – the latter being his last role, per IMDB, which aired after his death!), a yuppified young member of the “mud-people”, whose right of passage (per his Thurston Howell-like father) is to bring back a Tasmanian Devil. Here, Taz is far more like his savage, untamed classic-self – except he wins each battle of wits!
|Bushlad not smart... like Rabbit!|
“The Dog the Turtle Story”: Taz mistakes a turtle for a dog, and takes him home to be a pet. But the real story here is the introduction of Bull and Axel Gator, two animal trappers whose aim is to capture a Tasmanian Devil “…for the zoo-going children of the world!”
|Are you pondering what I'm pondering, Axel?|
BULL: “Axel, you just said SOMETHING STUPID – so, you know what TIME it is, don’t you?”
AXEL: “Yeah… Seventeen and a half minutes after three.”
BULL: “Uh-uh!” (Whips-out a club)
AXEL (realizes): “Oooh!”
BULL: “Now, you know WHY that had to happen, don’t you?” And, so on…
Of course, Tex Avery’s “George” would have simply said: “Bend over, Junior!”, and kicked him!
|I'm BENT OVER, George!|
|I was "relentlessly cheerful" back when it was depressing!|
|Gee, Bull... Should we have tried to take over the world instead?|
Don't be ridiculous, Axel! How would THAT help the Zoo-Going Children of the World?
“War and Pieces” / “Airborne Airhead”: On a rainy day, the three Devil children are left home in the family’s split-level, modern cave. Taz and Molly wage war with one another, using poor little innocent Jake as their mutual intermediary and “agent of destruction”. Highlight: Taz’s VIDEO GAME, where a “digitized Tasmanian Devil” travels a path, gobbling-up one “digitized Bugs Bunny” after another!
|Like Brother, (don't) like Sister?|
|Like Brother, like Brother, these guys love each other!|
Here’s a typical slice of their dialogue:
PLATYPUS # 1: “Here’s the problem, just as I suspected! Somebody installed the what-cha-ma-hootchie backwards!”
PLATYPUS # 2: “You have such a GIFT for technical language, O’ scholarly sibling!”
PLATYPUS # 1: “Elementary, my Dear Duplicate!”
Need I say that, in their sped-up, Rob Paulsen voices, they (all together now) speak incessantly around Taz, while assisting the Devil in his unsuccessful efforts to secure a LARGE EGG from the top of an immensely sharp, high needle-peaked rock formation. Attempt after attempt violently backfires on Taz, as the Brothers obliviously congratulate each other and / or analyze their “brilliant” techniques.
|Are they measuring Taz for his COFFIN?|
Two great moments: Taz falls from the incredibly lofty peak, yelling unintelligibly (as is his custom) all the way. On his downward trajectory, he FREEZES in mid-air to take a DEEP INHALING BREATH, so that he can continue the yelling, once his fall resumes! The Platypus Bros actually remark on the cartoon’s “Surprise Ending” to come. No spoilers, but it’s even more of a surprise than we (or they) think!
|I KNOW three's a crowd, dear brother of mine, but who's going to TELL HIM?|
Along with Bull and Axel, and the upcoming Didgeri Dingo, The Platypus Bros round out my three favorite “guest pairings” with Taz on the show.
“Battling Bushrats” / “Devil in the Deep Blue Sea”:
“Taz, honey, you stay away from that BIRD while I’m gone. Try and CONTROL YOURSELF, please. Besides, if you leave the bird alone, I’ll give you a SURPRISE when I get back from the store. Taz, I KNOW I can TRUST you!”
|Now, Taz, dear... You KNOW I have eyes in the back of my head!|
|Bushrats and Military Ants? What a delightful imagination you have, Taz!|
Taz goes through all sorts of heck to defend the seabird from the hungry warring factions – and actually gets the bird back in time for Jean’s return, only to get a “toy seabird” as his surprise… which he promptly EATS! …No one speaks incessantly around Taz in this episode.
THEN, we get to the REALLY good stuff:
“How you doin’! I’m Didgeri Dingo! I’m a DINGO! I SCAVANGE!” Yep, we’ve just met Didgeri Dingo, another favorite character from this show! Didgeri, while characteristically scavenging, finds a “Treasure Map and a Key to a sunken chest”.
|Yep-eroonie! I do nothing but TALK through the whole cartoon, too!|
“Now, let me see…”, he says speaking incessantly (as TAZ-MANIA characters are wont to do) in a smug and obnoxious Rob Paulsen voice, “…Who can I find that’s DUMB – uh, gullible enough to get that treasure for me? Someone of courage and stamina, yet of the LOWEST POSSIBLE INTELLIGENCE!”
Guess who spins into the scene.
This is the famous “TAZ HATE WATER!” episode that I’ve been waiting about 15-20 years to see again! And it did not disappoint.
|TAZ HATE WATER!|
Many painfully humorous deep-sea diving gags ensue, with poor Taz on the receiving end – while Didgeri (all together now) speaks incessantly around him.
In rapid succession, Taz comes up from the briny with: a drum of toxic waste, a life preserver from the Titanic, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and an explosive underwater mine.
|Oh, did I fail to mention that: "TAZ HATE WATER!"|
“So, Captain Clousteau, we MEET AGAIN, huh? Ha-ha-ha! But, ZIS TIME, ze advantage is MINE!”, he says with all arms full of the nastiest looking kitchen implements this side of Hollywood Golden Age violent theatrical cartoons!
|Poor Taz can't even call on Jerry Lewis for help!|
Oh, and there’s a gang of “West Side Story”-inspired hoodlum sharks… And what diving cartoon wouldn’t be complete without an encounter with a “slumbering (opening and closing) giant clam”?
|Did ya REALLY think there wouldn't be a giant clam?|
Above the waves, and literally above it all, Didgeri comments on the action thusly: “Oh, man! That’s GOTTA HURT!”, “That’s not supposed to BEND THAT WAY!”, and the meta-declaration “This is too terrible to watch – we really better FADE TO BLACK!”
|...Or, is that "Fade to black AND BLUE!"|
OVERALL: You can’t go wrong with this! Be a part of the ascension of Warner Bros. as the premiere purveyor of television animation for the last near-quarter century with Taz-Mania – Season One, Part One: Taz on the Loose!
…And remember, Volume Two is coming this August 6th!